Anti-Defamation League's youth conference brings Judy Shepard to Philadelphia

John McDevitt
November 12, 2019 - 9:40 pm
Judy Shepard at Anti-Defamation League youth conference in Philadelphia.

John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Anti-Defamation League holds a youth conference every year to help high school students take the lead in combating hatred in their own communities, including combating hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.

Judy Shepard, co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, was invited to speak at the ADL's youth leadership conference Tuesday. Her son, Mathew, was beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998 by two men for being gay.

She told students and faculty who gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center that hatred is learned and it's up to you make that change.

"It's a generational thing for sure. A familial thing," she said. "They can spend all the time in school, all of the time doing these kinds of things, but when they go home and if they get the reverse message, they don't have the wherewithal to challenge that message at home, yet. We can just give them the tools to maybe someday do that."

"Wow! Someone is experiencing these things," said Plymouth Whitemarsh High School junior Aja Smith, who was among the 500 Philadelphia-area high school students at the conference. "It's not like textbook kind of like 'we are all different.' These are problems that happened. How are we going to fix them?" 

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After the event, several students went up to Shepard to thank her for sharing her story and speaking. 

Shepard says traveling around the country and talking about her son's death is sometimes challenging, but getting hugs from the audience like she did makes it all worthwhile. 

"Every time I drive out to the airport, 'OK, how long am I going to do this?' And then when I get here, I'm like, I want to do this forever, because these kids are great. They need affirmation," she added.